by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM April 15, 2018
Walk the curious dog. Watch the focused robin. See how the cat’s ears twitch at the vibration of a noiseless bug inching across the carpet.
In the presence of these neighbors of the animal world, we can be profoundly humbled by the limits of our own hearing, smelling, noticing, sensing. How is it that we of the human species navigate this world so often unaware of what these creatures see or hear in the everyday: the stirring of the earth, the sound a green shoot makes as it propels itself towards the light?
I remember accompanying my sister’s Golden Retriever, Bobbie, on walks outdoors: how he would pause at a nondescript edge of lawn, utterly engrossed in that moment and all that was before him. How, when I tugged on his leash to nudge him forward, he would turn and give me a quizzical look, as if to say, “Already? Can’t you smell the wren who paused here for a rest? Can’t you hear the grass leaning towards the sun?” Sweet boy that he was, Bobbie didn’t judge me, just shrugged over my insensitivity to a hidden world. If it’s possible to envy a dog for its ability to mine presence, then yes, I was envious. Read Lisel Mueller’s poem, “What the Dog Perhaps Hears”, and you’ll understand why.
These days when all of the natural world seems to be hearing voices and seeing visions beyond me, I’m keenly feeling the limitations of my senses, much as Laurens van der Post felt in the presence of the Kalahari bushmen. When he admitted to these tribesmen, who live in a primal connection with all of creation, that he couldn’t hear the stars sing at night, they didn’t believe him. They led him away and stood with him under the night sky and whispered, “Do you not hear them now?” Van der Post sensed their profound pity when he had to answer truthfully that, no, unfortunately, his ancestors’ loss of hearing was also his loss now.
Still, that effort was not without some encouragement. The time he spent in intuitive company opened van der Post to wait in silence and know himself surrounded by the music of the stars. That comforting outcome hints of the possibilities open to us as well: to learn to listen more closely, to see more clearly, to notice with a deepening awareness the energies of God, the Holy One who lives and moves within us, between us, around us at every moment.
I’m still left wondering, though, what I might be missing. I wonder if there’s a correlation between one’s closeness to God and one’s ability to listen and to notice. If that’s so, what are we to learn from our relatives in the plant and animal kin-doms? Lacking fluency in their languages, we might not recognize the dog name, the tulip name, the bee name for the Holy One. What we do witness is a bit of how they perceive and point to a Presence, one that our distracted and preoccupied hearts often pass by unnoticed. What we do witness is how they fully inhabit and tend to their leafy and furry and finned and winged world. What we do witness is how they hear and see and smell and sense life pulsing through them and around them.
The 15th century Indian poet, Kabir, might have witnessed these same movements, might have sat with these same wonderings when he mused of the Holy One,
“What kind of God would He be
if He did not hear the
bangles ring on
as they move the earth
in their sweet
What kind, indeed? This is a God so intimately present that the divine engages in counting the hairs of our head. A God who refuses to let even one sparrow escape notice. A God who lovingly tends to the smallest details. A God who tells us to walk out into the fields, drink in the wildflowers, and read in their carefree joy a metaphor for the Holy One’s consciousness of our needs. A God who notices.
And what about us? About me? About you? Even with our limited senses of sight and hearing and taste and smell and touch, do you, like me, feel the energies of the natural world coming alive in this moment? Do you sense new life greening in you, pulsing in you, brimming with desire? Do you, like me, ache with all your heart to enter fully into this season of rising?
If possible, sit in stillness outside. If this is not possible, sit near a window and gaze at an outdoor scene.
Notice both the sounds and the silence around you and within you.
Breathe in the life forces, seen and invisible, that are present.
Unite your own deep desire for renewal with the longing of the Universe.
Give thanks to the Holy One who longs in you.
NOTE: Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of these upcoming events:
April 16: “Waiting in Graced Company,” a day I’ll be leading for spiritual directors at the Franciscan Spiritual Center, Aston, PA.
April 19: Dedication of the IHM Welcoming Space and Land Restoration, Scranton, PA
April 25: Social Justice Ministry, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY
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